Tuesday, May 25, 2010

You Get What You Need - Narrative

Summer term might have been a mistake. I wasn't thinking clearly when I signed myself up for four classes (out of pocket, I might add) in addition to a full time work schedule. Not all is doom and gloom, though; I've finally stretched my literary muscles for the first time in ages and have been given the opportunity (read: forced) to do some academic writing again.

Fodder for the blog.

This week's assignment was to write a narrative, 700-1000 words, detailing a true story with a lesson or moral. I've always preached that morality is inherently relative, but we've all learned a thing or two from time to time. I decided that in this case I would write a meta-essay, detailing the difficult process of selecting an essay topic.

To be fair, I spent much less time coming up with the topic than I did deciding whether I'd be blacklisted for it.


"You Get What You Need"

"It doesn't have to focus on some life-changing epiphany, just any time where you learned something. I think everyone can think of at least one time where you learned something." For the second time in as many years I found myself seated in an English Composition class. My credit didn't transfer but I couldn't wait any longer to find out why; I had made a plan to graduate and I wasn't about to put that off over some low-level English class. Besides, I'd earned this credit once before, how hard could it be? So there I sat, two weeks into the course, taking down the first writing assignment.

It wasn't a particularly difficult assignment. In fact, it should have been easy. A few hundred words telling a story with a lesson and I could call it a week, it would be smooth sailing. He was right -- the professor -- to suggest it would be a simple matter; after all, I had my share of stories and it was only a matter of choosing.

At the end of class I waited for most of the other students to leave before packing up my things. I made my way down the hallway, empty and bleak in only the way that fluorescent lighting can achieve, and pushed my way out of the of the glass doors into the the night. Fresh air met my nostrils and twirled playfully across my face and I slowed my walk, gazing at the stars as I ambled across the parking lot. A steady stream of light appeared nearby and moved slowly and deliberately out of sight, the red and gold orbs of endlessly advancing cars. I reached my van and fumbled with my keys before climbing up to my perch and lighting the headlights. A quick turn of the wrist and the engine roared to life. "A few hundred words," I thought; "This will be easy. I'll start it tomorrow." The vehicle lurched forward, and I was swept off with the river of light.

Three days passed -- long, tiresome, unproductive days -- before I turned my attention back to the assignment. It was late on a Friday night and I was staring at my computer monitor. The word processor filled the screen and the harsh white glare lashed out at my eyes. The cursor stood at the head of the page, blinking, austere and immovable. The page was empty. One letter at a time, I typed my name. The cursor followed suit, moving reluctantly with each additional character. I sighed and leaned back in my creaky office chair, swiveling to and fro. The low hum of my apartment's air conditioner filled the room as I wracked my brain for something, anything, to write about. Outside, the rumble of thunder orchestrated a symphony of car alarms in the apartment complex. I groaned and sprang to my feet, stepping onto the porch in time to watch the first droplets of rain.

Sunday morning, she sat across from me on the couch. "So you just have to come up with a story with a moral? And you can't think of ANYTHING?" Tendrils of steam reached up from a mug of coffee and mingled with loose strands of hair. My roommate.
"It's not that I can't think of anything at all; I've got plenty of stories, I just can't think of anything that I really WANT to write about."
"If it's taken you all week, why can't you just pick something and get it out of the way?"
It had been five days and I still hadn't even decided on a topic. She was right, but I just wasn't satisfied with my options. My chair creaked as I leaned back. "It's just..." I bit down on the pen cap that I had been playing with and leaned forward, creaking again as my elbows came to rest against my knees. "I mean, I don't want to write anything too cheesy, but how many stories can I just tack an obvious moral to? I can't think of any stories that wouldn't feel forced. Or at least appropriate for school."
Elaine stood to leave, but paused before turning away. "It's just an essay. Stop trying so hard and just write it."

Later that afternoon I left for work and pushed the assignment from my mind. I still had a little over a day to decide on a topic; the words, I thought, would follow close behind. In the evening I stepped outside for a break, some fresh air to clear my head. The sky was beginning to darken and the clouds were changing hue, and my mind scrambled to find something to write about as I took a seat on a bench along the sidewalk. For all of the stories I thought I had, I could conjure nothing. Surely I've had plenty of lessons, but aside from cheap anecdotes and forced metaphor, what could I really write about? I could never turn in a story of some sordid romance, or a tale of unrequited love, and be taken seriously; could I? I stared up at the sun as it dipped low in the sky and as, one by one, red fluorescent retail signs were illuminated. Slowly, the shadows of distant buildings crept closer across the massive parking lot, and the clouds above changed from gold to deep, soulful shades of orange and red, and I was reminded of my conversation with Elaine. I chuckled to myself and watched as the last slivers of the sun slipped below the skyline. It really did seem obvious.

"Stop trying so hard, huh?"


I've been trying to re-evaluate the usefulness of this blog. Originally, I started it as a sort of bulletin board of English assignments, but when that dried up it turned into more of a scarcely-updated political/zombie blog (not to be confused with political zombies).

I decided that I would abandon this project until I got some materials together to start an entirely new blog. Then I started another English class.

First essay post is tomorrow.

About Me

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Nick Woll grew up in the Florida Keys, and is furthering himself in the fields of writing, software development, and web design. You can contact him at nwoll27 at gmail dot com.